Saturday, January 31, 2009

Grocery Store Proximity

So the last few times I went into the Bell Market on 24th street in Noe Valley I noticed the selection of items getting worse and worse each week. This was down from an already small selection of groceries due to the fact that it was rather small for a grocery store.

It is only a quarter mile from my house and the best part is that its a flat walk. Being so close, I would not worry about forgetting something because I could just run back and get it in no time without having to hop in my car. In fact, getting in my car would be the worst idea ever because I would spend more time looking for a place to park than walking there, shopping, and walking back home. Now I'll have to go either 1 mile North or South to the Safeways' located at both of those locations.

In any event, I just learned today that Bell Market was closing and would be replaced with a Whole Foods. I'm not really sure what I think about that. Whole Foods tends to be overpriced and will in all likelihood turn 24th street into a fun traffic jam on Saturday mornings (Not that it matters to me since I walk, but I'm sure others will complain). Some merchants have called for it to be turned into a parking lot, but in all actuality having WF as an anchor will bring more foot traffic to the other businesses on the street.

During the time period I have lived here, I noticed that one of my biggest trip generators is groceries. Work trips are the largest with trips to the grocery store the second largest and trips to hang out with friends third. It made me realize just how important grocery stores located close by are for my and more than likely everyone's transit oriented lifestyle.


Morgan Wick said...

Definitely food for thought and worth considering.

Winston said...

I've lived in urban, suburban, exurban and rural locations and somehow I always end up between a 1/2 and 1 mile from a grocery store (at least from one that sells fresh vegetables, since it's hard to think of a 7-11 as really useful). In my current exurban location I'm 3/4 of a mile from 2 grocery stores (Safeway and a grocer that only stocks organic products at surprisingly reasonable prices) and 1 mile from a third (an independent).

My general experience is that getting good quality ingredients is much easier in suburban and exurban locations than in either rural or urban ones. The problem with rural locations is that even though the first store is pretty close the next store is a good way away, so if you don't find what you're looking for at the first store you're stuck driving 10-15 miles to the next one. The urban places where I've lived tend to suffer from the same kind of problem. There is usually a store within walking distance but it invariably doesn't carry something that I want and it's usually a royal pain to go to the store that has what I need. One thing working favor of urban (and to a lesser extent suburban) places is that you're usually closer when you are looking for something that's really uncommon - say sweetbreads or durian - then they're easier to find, but this isn't really a problem that most people have to deal with.

Rhywun said...

Wow, I'm surprised at the lack of supermarkets in that part of SF. Now that I think about it, there was nothing around where I lived at Post & Lyon many years ago either. But I didn't cook a lot then, so I guess it didn't matter.

I thought I had it bad in my part of Brooklyn. My neighborhood (Bay Ridge) is a little notorious for most of the supermarkets turning into drugstores lately. There is a decent one about six blocks away but it's totally in the wrong direction for me. But NYC in general--with the possible exception of Manhattan in recent years--is a real cesspool when it comes to groceries. There is *nothing* that comes close to the huge, clean superstores I grew up with in Rochester and Buffalo. The assumption seems to be, even in the very dense, transit-oriented neighborhood I live in, that you are expected to drive to one of the larger supermarkets in less transit-oriented neighborhoods like Dyker Heights or Bensonhurst or Red Hook. It's so annoying.

Alon Levy said...

It usually depends on how rich a neighborhood is. High-income neighborhoods are rife with large supermarkets, all of which sell fresh fruit and vegetables; low-income ones have bodegas instead. In Morningside Heights, I lived within reasonable walking distance of 8 supermarkets, of which only two were chains, one C-Town on 125th and one Met Foods near 125th. In Harlem, I live within walking distance of one supermarket, and that's a Pathmark.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

There might be one or two others in the mile radius Rhywun but the ones I highlighted can be easily accessed by transit.

Winston you're right. Finding specialty foods is hard. There is one place in Pleasant Hill called Leonardi's that sells tongue and always has an amazing meat selection. The problem is that's 15 miles away. I think there is a butcher shop at the end of Church street by that lower Safeway. At least there is an awesome cheese shop on 24th.

arcady said...

SF is really pretty bad in terms of availability of supermarkets. When I lived there, I had to take the subway two stops just to get to the nearest one. I think the real problem here is that all supermarkets without exception are required to build parking. This leads to a strong centralizing tendency, with a few large Safeways with parking lots serving fairly large catchment areas, rather than more and smaller stores. You can't very well open a bodega if you have to provide at least 12 parking spaces for it.

Anonymous said...

The problem is really where supermarket chains have combined several of their older supermarkets into one mega-market. Same thing occurs with banks, combining scattered branches into one "convenient" large branch, using with parking. They tend to forget the elderly who no longer have driver's licenses or those who want to save gasoline by walking. Not really "convenient".

JimS said...

There are plenty of nearby bodegas that will have basic groceries (i.e. less than a small supermarket, but lots more than a 7-11).

Some of these markets have been here since before supermarkets existed.

The thing is you don't really *NEED* a supermarket. Most of the daily life necessities can be bought at other, smaller kinds of businesses.

I live in the area and I almost never go to the Safeway. I do buy things from the Castro IGA at 18th and Diamond (which really should be on your map), but I can buy produce, groceries, etc. from the bodegas, and only go to the bigger stores if I need something more specialized.

Cap'n Transit said...

Thank you for pointing out that transit for commuting is not enough, and that a grocery store within walking distance is critical to a car-free life. The TOD that has no groceries is not the true TOD.

Thanks also to JimS for pointing out that you don't need a big grocery store, just store(s) where you can get most of your daily needs.

Arcady's point about the parking requirement is also important. The moronic saga of Officers' Row in Brooklyn has its origins in some peoples' belief that a "real" supermarket in one of the densest zip codes in the country can't be truly profitable without 400 parking spaces. Fortunately, smarter heads may prevail.

Anonymous said...

used to be a good fruit veggie store Seeds of Life on 24th haven;t shopped for food in that area in yrars. As to butcher/source for tongue a Chinese run place on Mission @ 23rd open seven days also seems to carry goat. I will say in passing, I miss webvan for the I don't need to choose items which shopping for is boring. When I am working in SF, I tend to hit up Bi Rite on my way to BART if the path works--other times I pick my route home to pass some other food source.
Where I live in N Oakland I have WFM 1o min walk, Safeway AND an indie veggie store, a butcher, a bakery all 12-14 min walk in a different direction and five minutes further walk a TJ. The TJ,Safeway,etc group are on the walk home from a BART station so they aren't really out of the way.

Anonymous said...

Can you verify that this is true?

"Privatization Advocates Led Obama Transportation Review Effort"

jon said...

there are a surprisingly high number of supermarkets and grocery stores in and around downtown portland...

-a downtown portland safeway (directly on streetcar line)
-a pearl district safeway (directly on streetcar line)
-a pearl district whole foods (1 blk from streetcar line)
-a northwest portland fred meyer (2-3 blks from max light rail)
-a northwest portland zupans (indie supermarket)
-northwest portland 'city market' (indie grocery store) (2 blks from streetcar line)
-pearl district 'little green grocer' (indie grocery store) (directly on streetcar line)

spring thru fall there is a farmers market held in the heart of the pearl district and right on the streetcar line

and year round there is a farmers market held at portland state university practically in downtown and also right on the streetcar

plus there is serious talk of building a permanent indoor public market in or near downtown portland and an asian supermarket (uwajimaya) in chinatown which is pretty much downtown.

Rhywun said...

The thing is you don't really *NEED* a supermarket.

Well, that's like saying I don't *need* cable television or high-speed internet. I.e. it's true but rather beside the point. One of the reasons I live in "the big city" is to have *more* choices, not less. The incredible deficit of supermarkets in my area is due to a failure of imagination. Something like 50% of the households in my neighborhood don't own a car--yet the assumption is that a supermarket requires oceans of parking and therefore doesn't get built (there is no room for such a thing--my neighborhood is too dense).

PS. My old neighborhood, Astoria, was fairly similar to Bay Ridge in terms of density and income, yet there were at least 4 large supermarkets in walking distance. Two of them directly off subway stations.

Alon Levy said...

Most of the daily life necessities can be bought at other, smaller kinds of businesses.

It depends on where you live. In low-income neighborhoods, it's very hard to find any fruit and vegetables, much less fresh ones. On my Central Harlem block, the only available produce is at Pathmark, which is low-quality, or at a store that's a kilometer away up a steep hill. (Harlem is revitalizing, but its median household income is still barely half the national average, and away from 125th Street it's really run-down.)